BiggerPockets Business Podcast

BiggerPockets Business Podcast 65: From 14-Year-Old Entrepreneur to National Brand With Sean Pour

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Do you think you’re too inexperienced to start a business? Do you think you don’t have the required education to be an entrepreneur? Do you think you don’t have the marketing chops to create a successful venture? Do you think you don’t have enough money to launch a million-dollar idea?

If so, this is the episode for you…

Sean Pour—founder of SellMax.com, a national used-car buying service—tells us about how he started his business at 14 years old, in attempt to help his parents keep their business afloat. What started out as an effort to help his family has, over the past 10 years, turned into a big business. Sean buys and sells thousands of cars per month all across the United States.

In this episode, Sean talks about getting started even before he had a high school education, how he taught himself the coding and marketing skills necessary to get the business off the ground, and how he was able to bootstrap the company without any capital. He also discusses how to build your network and find a great mentor without spending any money… and even potentially MAKING money in the process!

Listen for Sean’s amazing explanation about why too much education can actually hamper your likelihood for massive success and why those without a formal education often achieve much more.

Check him out, and subscribe to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast so you won’t miss our next show!

Click here to listen on Apple Podcast.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

J:
Welcome to the Bigger Pockets Business Podcast, show number 65.

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Sean:
The number one thing I saw with the people around me and in my age group with business is they don’t really think it’s possible or they think you have to be incredibly wealthy to start a business. They just kind of see it outside of their realm of possibilities.

J:
Welcome to a real world MBA from the school of hard knocks, where entrepreneurs reveal what it really takes to make it. Whether you’re already in business or you’re on your way there, this show is for you. This is Bigger Pockets Business.
How’s it going everybody? I am J. Scott. I am your cohost for the Bigger Pockets Business Podcast, and on the other side of the microphone is Mrs. Carol Scott, my lovely wife and cohost. How’s it going today, Carol?

Carol:
Such a happy day. We got our clear to close on our new house, and it's really far away, listeners. We're moving two whole streets away. How funny is that, right? So we outgrew our current house really quickly with COVID, four of us fighting to be on Zoom at the same time, and we got an early clear to close, major, humongous shout out to [inaudible 00:01:18]Christian at Options Mortgage who's been with us every step of the way. He managed to get the whole thing done in three weeks. Three weeks. Outstanding. So we have a big, fat renovation project in front of us and can't wait to get started, so great day. Really great day.

J:
Yeah, I'm really excited. As soon as we're done this, we're going over to the new house and we're going to start renovating. Hopefully, we can move in in a few weeks. But that's not what we're here to talk about. Today we're here to talk about Sean Pour. Sean is our guest. He is the founder of a company called SellMax.com and he started this business at age 14 back in 2008. Get that. Age 14, he was a freshman in high school and he started this business in 2008 during the worst recession in modern history. So he started this business not as a way to be an entrepreneur, start the business for himself. He actually started the business to help his family. So his family ran a car dealership, a used car dealership, and back in 2008, they were having trouble getting inventory, finding cars that they could buy and then resell, so Sean started this company back in 2008 to help their business, to help generate leads and get inventory for his parents' business.
Well, over the last 12 years, Sell Max has grown from a small San Diego startup that was focused on helping his parents’ business into its own standalone huge business. He now buys and sells cars all over the country, just an amazing business. And he walks us through the starting, the growth, the evolution of Sell Max and where they are today, literally selling tens of thousands of cars per year. So this episode is fantastic for any of you young entrepreneurs out there who want to learn about getting started, entrepreneurs who might have kids that want to help their kids get started, or anyone else that’s just looking to scale their business because really, Sean has scaled this business from a small website to what has turned into a very large business over the last decade.
Make sure you listen to the end when Sean provides a fantastic tip on how to build your list of mentors, people that can help you with your business, but doing it without having to pay them anything or any money out of your pocket. Just an amazing episode. You guys are going to love it. For more information on Sean, on Sell Max or anything else we talk about in this episode, check out our show notes at BiggerPockets.com/bizshow65. Again, that’s BiggerPockets.com/bizshow65. Okay. Without any further ado, let’s welcome Sean Pour to the show.

Carol:
Sean, welcome to our show. We are so looking forward to digging into your amazing story. You’ve accomplished such amazingly awesome things, and our listeners are going to absolutely love everything you have to teach them, so thank you for being here.

Sean:
Thank you for having me on the show. I really appreciate it.

J:
Oh, absolutely. This is great. So I want to go back. We talked in the intro about the fact that you started a business not just when you were 14 years old, but you did it back in 2008 during probably the worst recession in modern history, so you were facing a lot of challenges. So let’s go back to the very beginning, I guess even before you were 14 years old. Tell us a little bit about your growing up, what was going on in your life, your family’s life, your family’s business life that led you into starting this business at age 14.

Sean:
Yeah. So my parents have always kind of been entrepreneurial, so my dad immigrated here from Iran when he was around maybe 15 and he came here basically with no money at all, only a few hundred dollars, so he really made it for himself. He didn't have any assistance. And my mother, she came from a small town in Minnesota and they weren't very wealthy either, so they were kind of self-made individuals. And they always provided for us and gave us a good life, and I watched over the years as my father and mother grew the business and he had got us to a point where we were doing pretty well. My father invested in some real estate, and of course, when the '08 financial crisis happened, everyone was shocked, and that's what led to me stepping into the business. I saw that they had worked so hard for what they had. They weren't at a point where they were going to lose everything or anything like that, but it was just such a shame to see all the hard work they put in to come to a halt there.
My dad runs a used car dealership, so we had an issue with inventory and we weren’t able to fill the void that we needed in order to sell, so that’s where the idea of Sell Max came in, was to get us the inventory we needed because we knew if we could get the inventory at the right price, then we could sell it. So it was getting it at the right margins to move it.

J:
Okay, so that’s actually interesting. So your parents, they did some real estate, but they also ran a used car dealership and it sounds like in 2008, they were struggling a little bit, and the thing they were struggling with was getting inventory. So originally, when you had your idea for Sell Max, your company, it wasn’t so much, “I’m going to start my own company and I’m going to grow this company independent of my family’s business.” But instead, this was basically a lead generation effort on behalf of your parents, so you started Sell Max as an opportunity to bring more inventory to your parents’ business to help them, not necessarily to start your own business.

Sean:
Exactly. It was more to just aide them with what they had going on.

Carol:
That’s amazing. Now Sean, I’m so curious. You were, you said, 14 when this was going on, right?

Sean:
Yeah.

Carol:
So you were that in tune with your parents’ business that you were able to understand that the missing link was acquiring that inventory? Can you please help us understand where that whole thought process came into play and what you decided to do to start solving this problem?

Sean:
Actually, my dad was running a lot of advertorials in the Yellow Pages and stuff prior to that, and with the internet and everything, the Yellow Pages really started to become unprofitable for us. I was the computer guy. I wasn’t great on computers, but I was pretty tech savvy, so that’s kind of where I came in.

J:
I know that typically businesses evolve over time, and I imagine your business today is probably a little bit different than it was 10, 12 years ago, but what was the original like? When you sat down and first said, “Okay, I’m going to start Sell Max and I’m going to use this as an opportunity to generate leads,” what was the business model that was going through your head? What were you trying to create on day one?

Sean:
So instead of people trading in a car to a dealership or something, we knew we could purchase a car probably for a better price than the dealer could offer, and that's what we were doing. We were just looking for problem cars, damaged cars, cars that we knew we could … We had a mechanic, we knew we could fix the car at a better rate and then resell it. That's what we were going for when we started.

J:
You were going to use the internet as a lead generation tool, get people on the internet to sell you their cars, then you were going to take these cars, you were going to repair them and sell them through your parents’ dealership.

Sean:
Exactly.

J:
Were you thinking, “I’m going to do this locally.”? Were you going to start a website that found local cars or from the beginning were you like, “I’m going to do this nationally,” and then have to figure out all the supply chain, and operations, and logistics? What was the scope of the business at the beginning?

Sean:
So at first it started locally. We were targeting just San Diego, and then we started to branch out to areas that were nearby, like LA, things like that. But it was areas we could go to ourselves. We didn’t have a lot of employees, but if we knew the car was worth it, we could drive to LA or sometimes even drive three or four hours to get the car when we were starting out and we needed inventory.

Carol:
Got it. So you were planning on doing this somewhat local situation, right?

Sean:
Yeah. Exactly.

Carol:
And you’re the tech guy, you knew computers. So what did you do? Did you just build a website? I don’t even remember. 2008, were there apps back then? I’m a very untechnologically advanced person. That’s not uncommon knowledge for people who have heard me before. So what did you build? Did you build a website? Did you throw some code out there? Did you make an app? What did you do?

Sean:
Actually, at first it started with, I think at the time it was Jumla, which was arrival of WordPress, which is barely … It’s around still I believe, but barely anyone uses it now. So I was just putting together code from online that I found and just learning as I went. I think it was really a scrappy situation. Just taking everything and putting it together. So it just started with a small website, but of course, once you had the website online, no one’s coming to it, you have no traffic. And that’s kind of what led me down this really long path and it’s still a learning process today of marketing, and that’s one of the main things that I’m involved in today, is the marketing of Sell Max.

Carol:
Great. So it sounds like there were really two different avenues that you had to begin to master to get Sell Max where it is today, right? So one of them is the site itself and the second part is the marketing. I want to explore the first one a little bit first. When we go onto the Sell Max website now, very streamlines. It’s very polished. It looks like, for example, I can put in information about my car, my geographic location, et cetera, et cetera, it walks me through the process, it will give me a quote on what your company would be able to pay for my car. Is that what it looked like way back in the very beginning? Was the functionality the same or was it substantially different?

Sean:
Substantially different. When we first started out, it basically was a phone number that said, “Call this number.” And I think it had a basic contact form, but it was a lot less professional I would say. At the time I wrote it when I was kind of younger, there were maybe some spelling mistakes, but it’s changed a lot, it’s transformed a lot.

J:
So what came first, your marketing efforts or your first customer? So you put the website out there. At that point, did you actually start doing marketing before that first customer came or did you have to market for that first customer? And who was that? Do you remember who that first customer was?

Sean:
We had to market before the first customer. I can’t recall the first customer because I didn’t actually go myself, probably my dad went in and bought that car.

J:
So you were basically just, “Okay, I’m going to create a lead generation magnet for you, and now you’re going to go do the work.” Did your dad pay you or were you just like, “Okay, this is part of the business. We’re giving you a place to live, we’re giving you food.” What was the financial arrangement with you running this business by yourself?

Sean:
Yeah. It was kind of fun for me. I didn’t really view it as work. One, I felt like I was … I was learning some cool skills and it wasn’t really work to me. I was paid and I basically could get most things that I … I wasn’t spoiled, but I could get things. I stayed at my house for free and I got to buy some things that I wanted, so I guess that was my form of payment.

Carol:
That’s great.

Sean:
Couldn’t ask for me.

Carol:
Just enough to do what you needed to do, right?

Sean:
Yeah.

Carol:
So it sounds like you were building this lead gen website for your parents, your dad would physically go out to the potential customer’s home or whatever, figure out a way to purchase his vehicle. How did it start growing from there? A couple things. How many people back in the early days were coming through the site so that your dad could purchase vehicles for their used car lot and then what did you do to start expanding that?

Sean:
I think in the early days, maybe we were purchasing 10 cars a month or something like that, but for a local dealership, that was a pretty solid number. And then in terms of how we started growing, for one, when we first started out, we had no idea about an entire market, which was kind of dealing with scrap metal, junk cars, things like that. The really junk cars, we didn’t want to purchase, and that was actually a decent amount of the leads. So we started getting contacted by people who wanted to connect with us that were specialized in scrap metal recycling and things like that, so it kind of gave us another source of where we can sell the cars to. So that kind of gave us the idea to start looking further out because people were contacting us because we were showing up online and they saw that our marketing was doing well, and they wanted to work directly with us.

J:
So you started this business, again, 2008, ’09, ’10-ish were your first couple years, which, as we know, were difficult times to be in business. What are your thoughts on, and I guess here we are today in the middle of 2020 and we’re obviously again in some uncertain economic times, so there are a lot of people out there who are thinking, “Is now the right time to be starting a business? What types of struggles am I going to have if the economy turns?” But this is when you started your business. What do you say to those other entrepreneurs out there about starting a business during uncertain times? Is it a good thing, a bad thing, indifferent?

Sean:
I think that starting a business in uncertain times is actually one of the ways you can tell if someone’s going to be successful or not, and I kind of give a hat tip to, I believe it’s Paul Graham, he’s from the Y Combinator, he had a tweet about this as well and he said the same thing, that starting a business in an uncertain time almost guarantees success because it shows that the founder has grit and hustle and that they’re willing to go for it, even in an uncertain time. And if someone has that sort of willpower, even things, big things, all the failures that happen in business, which is going to happen, if you can succeed in an uncertain time like that, you’re going to really take off when the economy gets good. And yeah, just putting yourself out there in that bad of a situation, it shows that you want it, you’re going to do it.

Carol:
I love that. And what you’re talking about, Sean, is really just so applicable to what we are starting to face today. So many people are losing their jobs. Who knows what’s going to happen with the economy? So I love that we’re doing this interview now at a very similar timestamp in history. So I’m curious, it sounds like back when you started this, you were still … If you’re 14, that puts you in high school, right?

Sean:
Yeah. Yeah, I think I was about a freshman in high school at the time.

Carol:
Okay, cool. Were you working out of your bedroom, were you working at the car dealership? I so want to know, what did your day look like? Were you up at 2:00 in the morning and you were coding and then going to school? What did your day look like, where were you working out of, what was the arrangement with your parents? Talk to us about the whole everyday situation, and then from there I want to get into, did you go to college after that. I’m really interested in this path.

Sean:
Okay. Where I was working was my parents’ house. We had a small office in the downstairs, and it’s funny because we started referring to it as ‘The War Room’, because that’s where I would just sit in there all day, working on stuff. And it’s just interesting because I would sit there and work there, and early in the mornings, I would run upstairs and tell my dad, “We just did this. We just got these leads. Our website’s doing good. We have more traffic now.” And it was kind of an interesting scenario just to wake up in the morning, check online, run upstairs. It was an exciting time.

Carol:
That’s really cool. And you were going to school full-time? Then you would go to school and come home and do more of that?

Sean:
Yeah. It was funny too because I would go to school and then come home and work, and it’s funny because towards my senior year when the business was taking off and doing well, and senior year was kind of a joke year at my school, and I started taking off close to almost every Friday at the end of the year, and the teachers weren’t too happy I think. And I think they thought I was ditching school, so to all the teachers out there, I was working on a business.

J:
I find this really interesting because there’s a lot of talk today amongst entrepreneurs, wannabe entrepreneurs about the value of education. Even guys like Elon Musk have thoughts on, should people that want to go into business for themselves, should they be focusing on school? Should they be focusing on college? To what degree? Or should they just be going out and doing it on their own and learning on their own? Given that you started in high school and I don’t know if you went to college or not, but what’s your general thought on trying to start a business without … Well, for you, without a college education, but for you, you started a business without a high school education at the time. So what are your thoughts for other entrepreneurs and business owners who are trying to decide, “Where should I be focusing?”? Education first or business instead of education?

Sean:
So I think education is fairly important. I do feel like I learned a lot more from running the business and working in the business. The things that the school taught me were okay, but what I viewed it more as was a back-up plan. So I think it’s good to have that peace of mind. When I take a risk, I can take a risk and know that I’m going to be okay. If I failed today, I could always get a job where I made a decent salary, and I feel like if you don’t have the education and the only thing you have is that business, you’re going to be a little bit scared to take, maybe, the risks that you need to do to make the business succeed. So it gives me a bigger risk appetite, and that’s why I’m happy I went to school.
My suggestion would be, though, go to a school that’s not crazy expensive. I went to the San Diego State University, which is near where I live, and I think I paid about $7500 a year, which is reasonable for a college. I know a lot of people will rack up hundreds of thousands in student debt, and I don’t recommend that at all. But if you can go to an affordable school. I took longer as well. It doesn’t matter how fast you finish. It took me five and a half years to get my degree because I was working on the business. I just wanted to have it as a back-up plan.

J:
I love that. And I really love the fact that, again, we have this discussion all the time around education versus not education, and you just brought up something that, literally, I’ve never heard discussed but makes so much sense, which as education is going to be a lever for risk. It’s going to be a driving force to encourage you to take more risk and to be willing to fail, and people that know they have something to fall back on if they fail are going to be able to take bigger risks in their business. So I assume, based on that comment, that you’re a big proponent of risk and potentially failure. And I know starting at 14 years old, you were in a great position that, if you failed or failed 20 times, sure, maybe you’ll be 25 years old and you’re still getting started. What are your thoughts in general on risk and failure and how do you apply those thoughts to your business specifically?

Sean:
Yeah. I think with every business, there’s going to be a ton of failures. And starting a business is a risk, but if you work at it enough, I think it actually is, in some ways, less risky than having some job that you’re tied to. I think being able to support yourself is one of the most important life skills that you can have, so if you want to leave your job, you can.

Carol:
Okay, great. So Sean, now I’m curious to know, with these efforts back in the early days when you were in the beginning growth stages, were you successful in rescuing your parents’ used car dealership?

Sean:
Yeah. It was a successful mission. But the thing was, it actually grew beyond our expectations and it grew fast, and we don’t really see any down trend in sight. It’s interesting now because we’re kind of competing with giants in the industry. Carvana, Shift, CarMax. Those are the guys that we’re going after now.

J:
So are you still taking the inventory that you generate from Sell Max and selling it through your parents’ business? Are you still coupled with your parents’ business or are you kind of independent now and on your own and doing everything through Sell Max?

Sean:
So my dad, I still work directly with my dad. We’ve kind of grown together, and my mom is still a part of the business as well, but really, me and my dad are at the forefront. So it’s still a family run. We don’t really sell cars through our dealership anymore, it’s become … We’re operating on the scale model now, where we have a lot of dealers that work directly with us, but we provide them their inventory and they go and resell it.

J:
Got it. So here we are 12 years later, the model’s obviously changed, like we talked about, that’s pretty common. We learn things over the years, we scale, we find additional opportunities and additional avenues for success, so you’ve obviously done that. So let’s walk through … Operations are always really exciting for me. I know not for a lot of people, but I love the whole supply chain and the operations chain, so let’s talk a little bit about, let’s say you’re in San Diego still, Carol and I are here in Florida. Let’s say after this show, we go on and we’re looking to sell our car, and we are, and we decide, “Let’s give Sell Max a chance.” So we go on to Sell Max website, we enter all our information. What happens once we hit ‘send’ on the webpage?

Sean:
Okay. So what we have today is a lot of data from past sales, previous auction history, the partners that we work with, and we take all that data, and based on the conditioning of your car, we use that to calculate a price quote that we can pay you for that car. In most cases, we can make an instant offer. In some cases, we’re not able to if we don’t have enough data, but we try to give you an offer right away, and if you accept the offer, it’s sent to our towing. Our towing calls you, they come to you, pay you, and pick up the car. And then everything’s done.

J:
So does that mean you have towing companies that operate all around the country? And where do they take the car when they pick it up? And if they’re paying me, how are they getting paid? This just seems like a really complicated … You make it sound really simple, but there’s got to be a ton of stuff that’s going on behind the scenes. How did you build this network of towing companies and dealers and all of that?

Sean:
So a lot of outreach or people coming to us. Once you start to show up well and people see you, then a lot of people have reached out to us, like, “Hey, can we work with you to get us inventory?” So how it works is we either work directly with dealers. We also are partnered with a ton of auctions all across the US. Right now, we don’t really have any storefronts, but that’s what we’re looking to do. We have offices, but mainly, we just go directly to the customer, we don’t have any really fancy big offices right now. We have dealers and we have auctions that we work with, and that’s pretty much it. So if a dealer wants to buy it, then we’ll take it to them and they pay us our side of the deal and then they make their margins when they sell it at the location. A lot of these guys specialize in financing and stuff, and that’s kind of where they make their money.

J:
Got it. So I put in my car on your website, you look at it, you say, “I’m going to give them $5000 for that car.” I say, “Okay, great. I’ll take it.” You send somebody out to pick up and tow the car, he hands me $5000. Now you have this car. What’s the next step? How do you decide what dealer to give it to and at what price? Do they bid on it? Do you have something negotiated from my area already?

Sean:
From the back end, we’ll have dealers that have put in pre-input prices on cars that they’re willing to pay, what they’re willing to pay for the car. Otherwise, some of them, if we don’t have a good option with the direct dealer, then we’ll take it to one of the auctions we partnered with. Also, some vehicles, maybe they do better out of country for export and those go to the auctions as well. So it just kind of goes through a qualification of, where can we get you the best money? And that’s how we decide where to take it, and the tow truck will take it wherever it needs to go.

Carol:
Cool. So you had mentioned as part of all this network, the auction sites, of the dealers, of the tow companies. To grow that network, it was really just a lot of outreach, right? So you’ve been doing this a while now, for 12 years, and that’s probably just second nature to you, it’s just part of your business process. But to all those of us who are wondering what that looks like, how did you go about that outreach? Did you have a sales team? Were you visiting people physically? Were you picking up the phone and calling people? Were you marketing to them online? What did your outreach efforts look like to begin growing this network that has enabled you to scale to the scale you’re at today?

Sean:
So some of the ways, actually, was a lot of cold calling to grow the network, and the way that I did that I think worked pretty well. A lot of cities will publish the new businesses in the area with their business name and everything, so I could find towers through there that were just getting started that, of course, probably needed business, and that way we could work out a deal. And a lot of the tow truck drivers are kind of stuck, especially the older generation, they’re kind of old-fashioned, stuck in their ways, so some techy company asking to work with them, they were a little reluctant.

Carol:
So was it you making all these cold calls? Let me back up a little bit. It sounds like back, again, in the beginning, it was you and your dad.

Sean:
Yeah.

Carol:
At some point, when you decided to scale, is it safe to assume it was time to hire a person or a couple people to help you get where you are now?

Sean:
Yeah. Our first hires were family friends. The main thing to us is more, we were interested in people that we could trust that they would do a good job, so a lot of family friends, like my brother’s friends, my sister’s friends, we hired those type of people. And then, yeah, they were phoning calls, doing outreach. It was kind of like a crazy situation going on.

J:
So how big is the company now? How many employees do you have? What are their different roles in the company?

Sean:
So right now, we have about 50 people working directly for us, and then we have thousands of independent contractors just throughout the … The tow truck drivers I guess would be independent contractors that work with us and they do all the pick ups.

J:
And of those 50 employees, what are their roles? Are they marketing people, are they operations people? What do the bulk of those people do? How does that break down?

Sean:
The bulk of the people are dealing with the logistics and fielding leads. So of course, a lot of things will go wrong in the pick up process and we have to be on top of that. Maybe a tower is running late or some tow truck broke down or this person has to reschedule, so there’s a lot of back and forth when it comes to that, but basically dealing with the leads is the majority. And then we have some people in tech, a few people that do coding and things like that, and we have a few people working marketing. But I still like to lead up the marketing. That’s one of our most valuable … Marketing is the most important thing to the business.

Carol:
So you can keep going and keep growing.

Sean:
Growing. Yeah.

Carol:
So you grew from yourself, to yourself and your dad, to now 50 full-time people. Are you still in your War Room or do you have a central office? Do you work remotely? What’s your working situation?

Sean:
Yeah. Right now, with Corona, I feel like we can’t really go anywhere, but I’m still living in the similar … Not with my parents, but in the neighborhood, so I’m not too far away, and we have an office here.

Carol:
Love it. So we’ve talked about the people, we’ve talked about the office space. Back in the early days, you said you were generating about 10 a month, you were purchasing about 10 a month. Two questions. How many people contact your website every month and how many cars are you purchasing every month as a result of that?

Sean:
So right now, we get in contact every month anywhere from 5000 to 8000 people are contacting us about their cars, and the amount of cars we’re purchasing is usually 3000, something like that. Around there. 2000, 3000 is what we’re doing right now, and that’s with junk as well. Those are cars that don’t have that much value, it’s just kind of sitting in their yard.

J:
Got it.

Carol:
Wow.

J:
So I know we talked earlier, we don’t want to dig too deep into numbers, but I know I’m curious and our listeners are probably curious, what are the margins in a business like this? If you buy a car for $5000, what are you typically going to be reselling that for? What do your gross margins look like?

Sean:
So the vehicle market is really strange. Sometimes a car will do really well and for some reason, you don’t really know why. If we send it to an auction, maybe someone personally wants that vehicle for themselves, or sometimes we’ll lose money on it, but on average, it’s between 10% to 20% margins.

Carol:
That's great. That's fantastic. So you've got these great margins, you've got these huge numbers, you've got this huge employee base, you have all these systems, all these processes. You've built, and grown, and scaled over all of these years, but I think it's still really important to take a step back and remember, you started this at age 14, you were a freshman in high school. That's a really, really, really big deal. It's mind-boggling to think, our oldest son is 10, and to even begin to conceptualize him beginning a company of the scale that you've grown in four short years is just absolutely incomprehensible and beyond anything I could even imagine at this point. So I would love to hear, Sean, to any young person out there or to parents who may have teenagers who are looking to start a business, what type of tips do you have? What action items can you give those people to actually get a gig going, to start some type of hustle, to just get something off the ground and begin doing it?

Sean:
So the number one thing, I think, is having a good mentor or someone that you can look up to that’s been in business before. The number one thing I saw with the people around me and in my age group with business is they don’t really think it’s possible or they think you have to be incredibly wealthy to start a business. They just kind of see it outside of their realm of possibilities. So the number one thing, I think, is to be able to get entrenched with a group of people or someone who’s doing big things or trying to do big things that can inspire you to go on to work on your own projects. I really think that a lot of people can start businesses, they just don’t think it’s possible.

Carol:
So you’re just saying believe that it is possible and just take the steps and get out there and do it. Realize that it is possible. There are people who have done it successfully. Is it because of mastering marketing, for example, or is it just simply because of just grit and hard work and persevering? What would you say are, I don’t want to say the secrets, but what have you done consistently over and over through all of these years to enable you to continue growing in the way you have?

Sean:
Marketing, to me, was important, but I think it just depends on what your business is. So you need to get good at, I think, all facets of your business. You need to be good at every aspect. Marketing. If marketing’s important to you, be decent at marketing. Programing is good. Learn about programing so you don’t get taken for a ride later on. Anything that you think is going to be valuable to you, do some digging, try it a bit. Don’t go in there blind, otherwise, someone’s going to take you for your money.

Carol:
I suspect there’s a story somewhere in there because you brought that up a couple times, about if you’re not aware, someone’s going to take you for a ride. Do you have a story you’d like to share so we can learn from something you’ve experienced?

Sean:
Yeah. So when we were starting out, when I was younger, we found someone online and we paid them to work with us to do search engine optimization, and it did not go well. They really didn’t do anything, and then they started making threats about how, if we didn’t keep paying them, they were going to do something to us. You have to know who you’re working with. With certain things like that, people make it seem like this magic and you don’t really know what they’re doing. I feel like the same can be with programing as well. If it seems complicated, you don’t dig into it and people can say, “Oh, I did all of this work.” But did they really?

J:
So there are a lot of people out there that are probably on the younger side and they’re thinking, “Okay. I have a business idea. I want to start.” But we all know, starting a business isn’t free. And you’ve given a lot of great ideas on how you start businesses for a low cost, but what do you recommend to those people out there that are going to need some money? How do we make money when we’re trying to start our business? I like to ask this question of, especially those who are younger. Carol and I are old by most standards amongst our listeners, but for those in their 20s, there’s this gig economy these days and there are so many different ways to make money. What do you recommend to younger people who want to make some money to start the business, but they want to do it in a way that’s going to be beneficial towards learning or driving their business forward?

Sean:
Okay. So for me personally, I think one of the best avenues for younger kids these days just because they’re great with computers, one of the things a lot of people will do now is start working on sites like, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Upwork?

J:
Yeah.

Sean:
Yeah, it’s an online platform you can bid on jobs, apply for jobs. A lot of jobs out there are simple, like content writing. Kids can write decent content these days, and they’ll pay you per word or something like that. And what’s great about that is it kind of gives you an in with someone who’s doing … If you want to get into working online, the person who’s hiring you to write content for them, they probably have a business that they’re running, and that’s kind of a great way for a foot in the door to a mentorship or to get to know someone. Once you have some sort of relationship. It’s kind of hard to go up to someone and say, “Hey, will you teach me how to start a business?” Because it’s a lot of work on their end.

J:
Yeah, that's a really good point because you mentioned earlier that your number one tip for young people is to build a good network, have a mentor, but a lot of us ask, "Well, how do I build that network? How do I find these people that are successful?" And you kind of just brought it all back with your answer to the question of, "How do I make money?" And that's a great point. If you can do these small gigs, no matter how small they are, it puts you in contact with people who are literally paying you to do stuff for their business. That means they're business people, they have a successful business, and once you're in contact with them, it's real easy to then leverage that relationship.
And I think one thing that people … We talk a lot about on this show and people have to remember is, to get value, you need to give value. So this is also an opportunity to say, “Okay, you need more content for your business? I’ll make you a deal. I’m not going to charge you for the content, but let me take an hour of your time to pick your brain and ask you questions.” So there’s an opportunity there, as you network and build relationships with these people who are paying you to help them in their business to then make a trade and get them to give back to you with your business. Love that.

Carol:
I also want to point out to our listeners, I’m thinking back here, J, I’m thinking back, Sean. Again, J and I, we’re pretty old at this point, and what you’re talking about really, especially that point you just hammered on, really takes me back to right out of college for ever, and ever, and ever ago, when I was looking for a job and that type of thing. And in the beginning, I would sometimes go take a two or three day gig with a temp agency, for example. Not because I was necessarily thrilled about the specific data entry task or answering the phones or whatever they needed for a day or two, but the fact that it put me in contact with people who owned businesses, with people who knew other people that owned businesses, with people who had bigger, and more exciting, and just fresher opportunities. That was the most valuable thing that ever could have happened back then.
So I love that you’re reiterating to all these young people, you don’t necessarily have to be out there doing your dream situation right from the beginning, it’s just, figure out where you can create value and making sure you are providing that value to the right people, and then seeing how it grows from there. So thank you for reminding us all. I think if we all step back and take a look back to what we were doing in our early careers, we’ll remember we can pass those tips on to this generation now, so it’s very fun. So I’m curious, Sean, what is next for Sell Max? What’s coming down the line?

Sean:
So right now, our goal is, like I said, we’re competing with these guys now who are giants in the industry, like Carvana, CarMax, Shift, and these are guys that have a ton of VC-backed funding, so our goal is to go head to head with them eventually. And what our differentiator there is that we’re a little bit more personal on the side of things, I feel like. We started with family roots and we still run our business with that. So a lot of these companies, like Carvana, Shift, these guys, there’s a little bit something wrong, they have this process that they have to follow exactly, and we are in a situation where we work to solve problems. And if something isn’t exactly right, we’ll try to get them there. And I think that’s where we can fit in in the market, and the goal is eventually to have … We believe that there’s a lot of value in having a location in every city, so that’s what the goal is going to be, is slowly picking up new places and putting storefronts where people can just drive in because there’s a lot of trust there with that.

J:
That’s awesome. Love that. Okay. I think we are now at the point in our show to do the last segment that we call ‘Four More’. And this is where we ask our guests the same four questions and we give you an opportunity to give us rapid fire answers to those questions, and then at the end, we get to the ‘More’ part of the ‘Four More’ where we’re going to let you tell our listeners where they can get in contact with you, where they can learn more about you and your business. Sound good?

Sean:
Okay. Yeah, sounds good.

J:
Okay. I’m going to take the first question. So Sean, what was your very first or your very worst, I’ll let you decide which one, job, and what lessons did you learn from that? And I don’t even know if you had a job. If you started this at 14, this might be a weird question. Did you have a job before this?

Sean:
That’s what I was going to say. I’ve never technically been employed, but I guess washing cars at the used car dealership was my first and worst job. That’s pretty hot in San Diego out there wiping down the cars.

Carol:
How old were you when you were washing cars? Were you three or did your dad let you wait until you were 12?

Sean:
Probably around that age, yeah. I’ve always been around the dealership.

Carol:
Just grew up into it. I love it. So I’m curious, the second question, what is the best piece of advice you have, Sean, for small business owners that you haven’t yet mentioned today?

Sean:
So I was going to say here that the most important thing is to build the knowledge that you need to have. Whatever it is that you’re going to get into, make sure you’re skilled in it a little bit. You don’t have to be the best, but just know a bit about it so you can outsource if you’re going to outsource, so you can outsource to the right people that aren’t going to take advantage.

J:
Yeah, absolutely. We talk a lot about that on this show, where it’s, for a business owner a lot of times, it’s better to kind of be a jack of all trades than to be an expert in any one thing because you’re not necessarily doing the work yourself. Maybe at the beginning you are. You might be doing everything yourself, but eventually, you’re going to get to the point where you’re not doing all the work yourself. You’re going to be hiring people. But you still need to know, is this the right person to hire? And once they start working, are they doing a good job or a bad job? Are they being efficient? Are they overcharging me? So understanding a little bit about everything in your business, from sales, to marketing, to operations, to programing. Everything is really going to allow you to manage your business better, even if you’re not doing everything yourself.

Sean:
I think that comes along with starting a business on a budget. You learn the things that you need to know, and then as you grow, you can bring on the people that you need. So I think right now if you were young and someone gave you all the money you needed to start a business, it might go worse for you than if you started from scratch because you’re just going to be throwing it around and not really knowing what you’re doing with it. It’s like a good, that growth where you’re leading up to knowing what you’re doing is important.

J:
That’s a really good point.

Carol:
Yeah, that’s gold.

J:
You always hear people say, “Well, if I had $100,000 or $1,000,000, I’d have a super successful business.” But the reality is, without the knowledge behind it, money isn’t going to help you, so I absolutely love that.

Sean:
And you know the value of every dollar that you work for. If money’s just handed to you, then you might … I still look for decent prices on everything. I’m not just picking the first person. I look for that I’m getting a decent deal.

J:
That’s a really good point. Okay, well on the topic of knowledge and information and education in business, what is your favorite book? What’s a book out there that many of us may not have read but that you really like?

Sean:
I guess there's two. Maybe a lot of people have read the How To Win Friends and Influence People. I think that one's pretty popular. Another one that I like is, it kind of is like a paradigm shift, it's a book by MJ DeMarco, The Millionaire Fastlane. The title, everyone says, is kind of cheesy, but really once you dig into it, it's more about the mindset of what the difference between working a job and running a business is.

J:
Absolutely. And I’ve actually been a member of MJ’s internet forum since 2008. Literally within about two months of when he started it. So I’m very familiar with MJ and he has an awesome book there.

Sean:
Yeah, he seems like he’s a cool guy.

J:
Yeah.

Carol:
Awesome. So my fourth and favorite question is, Sean, what is something along the way in your personal or work life that you’ve splurged on that was totally worth it?

Sean:
I’m a big believer in, I’m not a super materialistic person, I don’t think you get a lot of value from having fancy items. I like vacations. And a few years back, I went on a trip to Denmark and that was pretty cool. I saw Copenhagen and some other cities over there, and that was totally worth it.

J:
It’s nice to be 25 years old and be able to travel the world on the success of your business, so I love that.

Carol:
So cool.

J:
If that’s not motivation for a lot of people out there, I don’t know what is. Awesome. Okay, so Sean, that was the ‘Four’ part of the ‘Four More’. The ‘More’ part of the ‘Four More’ is, can you tell me where our listeners can find out more about you, find out more about Sell Max and potentially connect with you?

Sean:
Yeah, so to find out more about Sell Max, you can go to SellMax.com. That’s our website. If you want to email me directly, that’s [email protected], and Twitter, I’m on Twitter.com/SeanPour1.

J:
Awesome. Cool. Sean, thank you so much for being on, for telling your story, for providing so much great information, we really appreciate it. And I look forward to having you back in a year, two years, three years, find out what the next piece of the evolution for Sell Max is and see where things have gone.

Sean:
Thanks, and I really appreciate you having me on the show as well. It’s been fun, and I just know that when I was starting out, I did enjoy hearing about other people’s successes, and that helps motivate you when things are rough. And it will be rough when you’re running a business, so hopefully someone whose listening gets a little bit of motivation from this.

J:
I’m quite positive they will. Thank you so much and we’ll talk to you soon.

Sean:
Thank you.

Carol:
Bye, Sean. Thank you.

J:
Bye, Sean.

Sean:
Bye.

Carol:
J. Seriously, how awesome is Sean. This man started as a freshman in high school and here he is 12 years later, and I just love how he talks about in the beginning he was helping his parents, somehow managed to scrap together some code, build a website, buying 10, what’d he say, I think 10, right? Cars every month, and now the 2000 to 3000 per month with 50 people, locations all over the country. Just such a great story all the way around, I love it.

J:
Yeah, I’m just going to say one thing, and that’s for anybody out there who thinks you need experience or education or money to start a business. Sean is proof that you don’t. He started this business 14 years old, didn’t even have a high school education at that time, let alone a college education, and was doing this to help his parents’ struggling business. He wasn’t wealthy and throwing lots of money at this. He basically pulled himself up by the boot strings. Boot strings? Boot straps?

Carol:
You tug at heart strings, you pull boot straps.

J:
Okay. I don’t have boots, so I wasn’t sure if they had strings or straps.

Carol:
Yes, that’s right, Mr. Flippy-Floppy.

J:
Yeah. I just love this episode and it was just so motivational for anybody out there that’s starting at a young age, that has kids that might be starting at a young age, or people who are just looking to scale their business and just need that motivation to know that you can do it if you put in the time and the effort. So thank you, Sean, for being on. Carol? Are we good for this week?

Carol:
I think it’s time to wrap it up, baby.

J:
All righty. Thank you everybody for tuning in. Stay happy, stay healthy. We will see you again next week. She’s Carol, I’m J.

Carol:
Now, go realize that you too can start a business today. Have a great week, everybody!

J:
Thanks, everyone.

Carol:
Thanks for tuning in. See you next time.

J:
See you.

Watch the Podcast Here

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • How Sean started a business in uncertain times
  • How he learned a lot more from running a business than from school
  • Sean’s focus on affordability and starting on a budget
  • How he started this business at 14 years old
  • His #1 pieces of advice for those starting a business at a young age
  • How their business model achieves a 10-20% profit margin
  • Why he thinks marketing is the most important thing to a business
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Books Mentioned in this Show:

Connect with Sean

What does it take to start, scale, and sell your own business? Every Tuesday, J and Carol Scott ask this question to entrepreneurs of all stripes and delve into stories that go beyond the launch. F...
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